For years I've watched e-Bay, scrounged tool swaps, and foreclosures in order to find a good, affordable English Wheel. If you're into custom parts fabrication, you're probably familiar with these tools. English wheels go back to the early coach building craftsman of the late 19th and early 20th century. These tools were used to make complex and compound curves in sheet metal (be it brass, copper, steel, -- whatever -- as long as it was light gauge. Metal craftsman used these tools to hand-fabricate vehicles, coaches, and ornamental/decorative items. Today only the most exclusive restoration and fabrication shops have access to these tools.  Although a few talented amateurs have built some excellent wheels themselves.
Finding one is difficult for these tools are rare, and also very expensive -- just do a search on e-Bay and you'll know what I mean. For example the following is an English Wheel manufactured by metal smith Ron Fournier and sold by Williams Lowbuck Tools for $3700. A great wheel, and definitely worth the price, but for an amateur this is a bit overkill.

We'll never forget !!!

To satisfy my curiosity about English Wheels, I visited an old friend who's been restoring British cars for most of his adult life -- he's 73 now and has been doing this since he was 14. He should know something about E-wheels. On my visit to his shop he showed me four different wheels. Two of them were industrial quality older wheels that have been around since the early 20th century (they would be worth thousands if he'd sell them). The other two were home built, and to my surprise he said that these wheels where his favorites. I asked why. He said that they were more adjustable and flexible than the large wheels, and that he had made many useful accessories for these wheels that simply were not viable for the big units.

Upon further inquiry, my friend said that the home built units were made for less that $150 -- including the anvils, the upper wheel and the tubing for building a frame. That's what I was looking for. 

His anvils and upper wheel were made from large industrial casters. I told him that many experts frown on casters since they're not hard enough for heavy duty work, and that industrial models used hardened steel for the anvils and upper wheel.

He laughed and showed me an example that he built in 1958 -- made from cast iron wheels and scrap steel tubing. The anvils and upper wheel looked shiny and polished -- no dings or rust. Good enough for me -- so I took some notes and got to work.

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